All Book Reviews

A Darker Shade of Magic
Schwab, V. E.
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

A co-worker of mine suggested I check this book out, and I have now finally
gotten around to it. While he gave this series of books a glowing review, I
can only hope that the other books in this trilogy fare better than this one.
For what it was worth, A Darker Shade of Magic didn’t seem to be original
enough for me to care much about what happened in it. It’s filled with so
many fantasy and YA tropes that I could almost swear I’d read the same book
somewhere else before.

Perhaps part of my problem comes with the audiobook production of this story.
I generally liked Lila, except when she was particularly annoying. There were
quite a few times the narrator made her sound like Audrey Hepburn in the
early part of My Fair Lady (1964), and that’s not much of a compliment.
Overall, though, I can understand how the first book in a series can be dry
just based on the fact that it has so much exposition and world-building to
do to lay a foundation for the next books.

And maybe the “generic” feel of this book comes from the logical nature
of a magic system closely tied to blood? I like the concept of the parallel
Londons, and the action sequences near the end were reasonably exciting, so
there is some merit to this book. It’s more that everything felt so flat
and uninteresting, even with a compelling topic like blood magic tying
everything together. While I wasn’t necessarily impressed with this book,
I’ll continue to be my stubborn (or perhaps masochistic) self and continue
with the rest of the series to see what all the commotion is about.

A generic YA fantasy with a few shining moments, I give A Darker Shade of
Magic 3.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Genres:
Schumann: The Faces and the Masks
Chernaik, Judith
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

When it comes to biographies of famous artists, it can be difficult to separate their life from their life’s work. It is fascinating to understand the influences of an artist, especially when in the context of their creation. However, much of the ability to talk about the artist’s life depends on common knowledge of their artistic portfolio. For slightly more obscure artists, finding the balance between discussing their personal life and providing an explanation of their art can be a challenge. Schumann: The Faces and the Masks attempts to cover both Robert Schumann’s life and his musical pieces.

While revealing some of the more interesting secret codes in Schumann’s music in this book, the moments discussing the songs in detail seem to derail the whole narrative of the biography. Schumann’s life was fascinating enough as it was, with the drama involved in his marriage to Clara Wieck, as well as his involvement with several other famous musicians (like Mendelssohn and Brahms). Bringing in sections that basically amount to music theory might have been better suited in an appendix instead of fusing with the story as it progressed through his life.

Despite these jarring asides, Schumann’s life story is still interesting enough that I suggest anyone who is interested in Romantic composers, or even music in general, should give this book a read. The author does an excellent job of highlighting the ups and downs of this creative individual who suffered for his art almost as much as he suffered from his various conditions (an STI and a clear case of bipolar disorder). The fact that he had such a talented and devoted wife in Clara throughout his life is merely a testament to how forward their relationship was and how transformative she was on his life on the whole.

A fascinating biography with jarring bits of music theory, I give Schumann: The Faces and the Masks 3.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Shadow of the Hegemon
Card, Orson Scott
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

It’s almost fitting how the follow-on book in the spin-off series to Ender’s Game takes the same tactic as Speaker for the Dead and transforms itself into a completely different genre. While Speaker for the Dead and its sequels still maintained a level of science fiction for the Ender saga, Shadow of the Hegemon pivots into a political thriller with almost no hints of sci-fi to be seen. The strength of the characters helped make this transition relatively smooth, but it still highlights how these child-aged individuals hardly have any child-like qualities.

While the Shadow saga certainly needed to start out focusing on Bean, I did appreciate how Shadow of the Hegemon developed many of the supporting characters. For the first time in both series, I felt like the reader was able to know Petra and Peter while also seeing what Achilles was capable of accomplishing. The results of bringing back children war heroes to Earth had a logical feel to its progression, even if I didn’t really care much about southeastern Asian politics to really engage with the politics of the plot. That’s not to say the whole “cat and mouse” between Achilles and Bean wasn’t interesting; it just wasn’t what had brought me to this series in the first place.

Of course, having read the Ender saga first, I can already see the early ripples of how this side-series will start to wrap up. Now that Ender is less of a presence in the Shadow series, other characters finally have a chance to show what they can do. While I’ll reserve my predictions might change with what actually happens, I get the sense that Peter’s tenure as Hegemon changes the world just as Bean changes into some super-intelligent giant. I will admit that some of Orson Scott Card’s predictions from 2000 still seem plausible today, given the political climate, it’s clear that the author did his research before playing with the ever-important sci-fi “what if” scenario.

A political pivot from a well-known sci-fi series, I give Shadow of the Hegemon 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Awards:
Book Review: Jet Girl
Johnson, Caroline
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This book is an insider's look at the military establishment, particularly the elite Navy forces. Johnson overcomes so much to become a fighter pilot only to be alienated by the Navy's most elite squadron. Told with honesty, Johnson's grit is something to be admired.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Pippi Longstocking
Lindgren, Astrid
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

As a parent, Pippi really stressed me out, but I still loved the book. Zoe adored it. The final paragraph was perfect.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Book Cover
Ibanez, Isabel
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Ximenia Rojas has been the decoy for Condesa Catalina ever since the usurper Atoc overthrow the Illustrarians a decade ago. Ximenia's family, along with the Condesa's, perished during the civil war, and Ximenia and her fellow Illustrians want revenge. When Atoc summons the Condesa to the palace to be his bride, Ximenia goes in Catalina's place and uses her weaving magic to send messages to the Illustrians via tapestry. With only eight weeks before the wedding, Ximenia must find intel about a magical gem that is the Illustrian's only hope.

My literary 2020 is off to a great start with this gem of a historical fantasy YA novel! I went in with fairly low expectations as 2019 was, on the whole, not a great year for YA fantasy. This was very good and felt like something of a course correction. The "historical" aspect covers Bolivian politics and the introduction of cocaine, at least somewhat (I know nothing about Bolivia and the eARC didn't have an author's note at the end, but the author does reference her two Bolivian parents) and deftly weaves a story of magic, moonlight and betrayal. The moon magic is subtle, but well utilized. Ximenia's ability is, for lack of a better phrase, quite cool. The author took a familiar story of rebellion and a headstrong girl and combined those seemingly stale tropes with magical realism and Bolivian flavor to create a book that felt like something new. The romance was earned. The main character grows a lot throughout the course of the book. Ximenia's story is tied up by the end, but there's an intriguing jungle based thread that's left dangling (not a spoiler!) that I'd be willing to bet will be a second book. I'll read it.

Also, I dare you to read this book and not want some tasty Bolivian treats. The food sounds amaaaaaaaaaaazing and it's mentioned a lot.

TLDR: Woven in Moonlight takes a familiar tale of revolution and spices it up with excellent character development and creative magical realism. I'm having trouble thinking of something to compare it to, because I like it better than most books that I've read that are similar (The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson for example - this is in the same zone, but I enjoyed it a lot more). Recommended for readers who like their fantasies to be revolutionary (ha) with a strong female lead and a touch of magic. 4 stars - I really liked it.

Thanks to Netgalley and Page Street Books for the eARC, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Woven in Moonlight is available for purchase or you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Book Cover
Weir, Andy
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

After a NASA crew member is left behind on planet Mars, he has a huge to-do list. First, come in contact with NASA to prove he is alive, don't starve, don't die, then make it home alive. I'm not a huge fan of any science fiction type book, however, this was indeed an exception. I loved the perspectives the author chose to include, and the humor he shot into his characters gives the story personality. I suggest this book to an eighth grade audience; there is some inappropriate language and all of the science attributes are complex to understand. I strongly suggest to you this book if you want to be left on the edge of your seat with every new chapter, right up until the end.

Reviewer's Name: Jaime P.
Book Cover
Harrington, Kim
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Clarity, by author Kim Harrington, is a gripping mystery novel about a sixteen-year-old young woman named Clarity, or "Clary". A normal teenager on the outside, Clarity possesses a talent for seeing the stories in objects: merely touch one and she sees visions related to the owner and what circumstances the object has been in. When a murder occurs in the small seaside town in which Clary lives, she teams up with the police and must dig deep into her own talents and the town's secrets in order to solve the mystery.

I enjoyed this book. While the writing is more of a middle-school level, the themes are for older teenagers. Thus, I would recommend this book to any reader over sixteen. The book is not overly long, and I finished it in under a day.

Reviewer's Name: Rebecca D.
Awards:
Book Cover
Grant, Michael
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Michael Grant has written a thrilling conclusion to his Gone series. Light is the perfect ending to a phenomenal series. Over the past five books, Sam, Astrid, Edilio, and all the others have survived every obstacle the FAYZ has thrown at them. However, will they be able to survive a final epic battle with the Gaiaphage itself? With suspense around every corner, Light brings the same energy and intensity found in all of the other Gone books. I thoroughly enjoyed Light and highly recommend it to any high school aged reader.

Reviewer's Name: John B.
Book Cover
Grant, Michael
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Michael Grant continues the Gone series with another spectacular novel. The kids of Perdido Beach have survived many obstacles thrown at them by the FAYZ, but now they must face their biggest fear yet: complete darkness. Will these kids be able to survive when they can't see what's coming for them? Fear is another hit by Grant. With twists and turns around every corner, Fear is a suspense thriller you won't be able to put down.

Reviewer's Name: John B.
Book Cover
Mull, Brandon
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Kendra and Seth are rushed back to Fablehaven, their grandparent's preserve for mythical creatures for another adventure. The Society of the Evening Star is on the move trying to collect the artifacts. The Sorenson's call in three allies but are they really on their side? Will they be able to stop the society before the artifacts are gone? As the second book in the Fablehaven series this one is even better then the first. There is tons of action and many new characters. You won't be able to put this book down!

Reviewer's Name: McKenna B
Genres:
Book Cover
Mull, Brandon
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Fablehaven is a book about siblings, Kendra and Seth. Their parents send them to their grandparents house where they find out it's actually a magic preserve for mythical creatures. When Seth's mischief gets out of hand will they be able to save the preserve, and the world? Fablehaven is my favorite book series and I know you will enjoy it too. Once you read the first book you won't be able to stop until you've finished the series. As a teen I was able to relate to the characters and I just couldn't stop reading!

Reviewer's Name: McKenna B
Awards:
Genres:
Heartfire
Card, Orson Scott
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

It’s been a while since I read this far into a series, and I can start to see why I like trilogies and stand-alone books. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think this series had evolved into a courtroom drama instead of a historical fantasy. At this point, the whole premise of this series seems to have veered off course and has lost its focus to tackle unrelated issues that were somewhat prominent at the time. Or, at least it’s merely acting as a chance to name drop historical figures and take the side of history against well-known issues that haven’t aged well over time. If anything, Heartfire could have easily been the fourth book in the series, since Alvin Journeyman added nothing to the story. Even so, Heartfire didn’t feel as strong as earlier books in the series. It almost seems like there’s more of a focus on world-building. There is less focus on actually progressing the story—like the path toward the Crystal City. Certain plot elements were almost entirely forgotten as well, even if there was a whole legal battle in the last book to re-hash how Alvin came into possession of a sentient golden plow (which itself is still unclear why it’s important).

By now, I’m merely reading the series on autopilot just to see if there is any conclusion to the alternate history presented here. I still think there are clever takes on historical figures, but by now, they seem added in as a heavy winking nod to the reader, most of whom will already know the referenced individual. Perhaps the lack of overall character growth in this book is what made it such a so-so read for me. Sure, there were baby steps toward some redemption arc, but in the end, nothing ended up changing the drive of the overarching story.

Another weak link in the Alvin Journeyman series, I give Heartfire 3.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Sulwe
Nyong'o, Lupita
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This is a wonderful book that explores colorist in a gentle manner. Great addition to the PPLD collection.

Reviewer's Name: Aisha
Book Review: Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood book jacket
Noah, Trevor
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Not bad. I was expecting more on his move to Los Angeles and the establishment of his career and time on the Daily Show but the memoir doesn't cover that. I guess I should have known that judging by the title. There was a little bit of jumping around and muddling of incidents in his life, but overall it was educational and entertaining.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Awards:
Girl with Brush and Canvas
Meyer, Carolyn
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Learn about artist Georgia O'Keeffe in this fascinating novel about her life. Beginning with her early life in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin when she announced her plans to be an artist and following with family hardships where she refused to give up her dream, you'll learn about where she found her inspiration and how she persevered. Girl with Brush and Canvas, is a well-written, entertaining story about one of the most interesting artists of the 20th century.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
The Hero Next Door
edited by Rhuday-Perkovich, Olugbemisola
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

The Hero Next Door is published as part of a partnership with We Need Diverse Books. It's a collection of short stories by 14 award-winning authors. It's a celebration of everyday heroes that make a difference in their worlds and challenges each of us to be a hero in our world. While every story may not speak to you, there's something in this book for each of us as we work to make the world a better place.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Perfect
Amato, Max
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

How do you define perfect? For eraser, it's a flawlessly clean piece of paper. For pencil, it's a paper full of squiggles and more. Is there a way that they can learn to work together, get along, and become friends? Read this simply "perfect" book to find out. You'll enjoy the ways that pencil and eraser come to life through the illustrations.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Moo, Moo, Chew, Chew Sounds from the Farm
Shand, Jennifer
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Consider reading this this interactive book to your youngster as they transition from board books to picture books. Its tear-resistant pages make it ideal! The guessing game format will delight your child as it introduces new vocabulary and concepts related to the farm.Together you will hear a cow, pig, horse, and more. A delightful book!

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Pandora's Lab book jacket
Offit, Paul A.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Science is an interesting realm. The public would sure like to think that all scientists are dedicated to finding the purest form of some scientific concept and modifying it to benefit society. However, some things become readily clear: not all societies are the same, and science can be abused. If anything, some of the worst scientific discoveries of the last few centuries were made with the best intentions. Unfortunately, more often than not, the full science wasn’t brought to the table, and plenty of people suffered because of it. Enter Pandora’s Lab, a selection of a few of the worst scientific discoveries and the stories behind what made them go awry.

Each of the scientific discoveries covered in this book had slightly different negative impacts on the world, but the reason why they became so notorious is almost ubiquitous. Science is no place for emotion, so finding quick fixes for something by using science can create worse problems than the ones that were initially there. Scientific rigor is also of utmost importance. Even if many of these horrific discoveries received Nobel prizes, hindsight showed skewed results from the start. Every new and fantastic technology created from scientific research should be scrutinized with a heaping of salt to ensure it can’t be abused.

On the flip side, ignoring sound scientific facts or not considering the full, worldwide implications of a discovery is just as dangerous. Ignorance is bliss, as long as the consequences don’t directly impact you. While we do have the benefit of hindsight, it’s essential to use the lessons presented in this book. We need to examine the science and technology being developed today and do our due diligence to make sure that they don’t inspire genocide or doom all of humanity to an unsustainable new way of life.

A grave lesson about the consequences of bad science, I give Pandora’s Lab 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. W.

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